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Becoming more creative


Robert L. Fielding


Creativity is something that can be learned – developed.  The creative minds of the age got that way through tenacity and spirit – the spirit of innovation in thought.

The late Steve Jobs, creator of Apple, and one of the most prodigious innovators the world has ever seen, probably wasn’t always that way – he was a kid at school, just like you or me – goofing around a bit in between learning.


But what separated him from the rest of us was that he found something he loved, found it and stuck to it, until he and his co-inventor/innovator founded Apple computers – Mackintosh – i-pod – all the stuff that has changed our world beyond recognition.


How did he do it?  Well, for a start, he probably came to develop skills out of five primary principles.

These five primary principles are:

1.       Seek Novelty

Seeking the new in life doesn’t mean you have to throw out the old; it means being open to ideas about your life, instead of being closed up.  Being that way is often akin to being frightened of the new.  Life every day as if it were your last, and one day it will be!  Up until then though, do not be afraid of change; meeting change and adapting successfully to it is extremely beneficial for your psyche.  The converse is true: shying away from the new means being retiring and retired at the same time.  If you are like this, and most of us are to some degree, you tell yourself little stories to justify not doing anything, don’t you?   We all do it, it’s got something to do with the human condition, but that isn’t set in concrete; our species is the most adaptable one on the planet, or rather say that we change the world to adapt to us – not the same thing at all!  On an individual level though, seeking out new approaches to life, new ways to get things done – new ways to get to work (you have to start somewhere, and where and when better than at the start of your day?

2.      Challenge Yourself

This could take the form of challenging yourself physically – by walking at a fast pace for two hours, for example, or it could take the form of challenging yourself mentally.  Perhaps the most difficult way you can challenge yourself mentally is to question all your preconceived notions about everything you do, about everybody you know; about all your opinions – challenging yourself in this way can and should be life-changing.

Getting physically fitter will have immediate benefits – you won’t feel as tired, or as stressed, you’ll sleep better and wake refreshed.

Becoming mentally replenished, so to speak, means that you will become more optimistic about your life – a change from habitually being in that other state – what Churchill called ‘the black dog’ – depression!

Changing the ways in which you have come to habitually view the world and everything and everybody in it will have direct and great advantages: you will be actively sought out as good company; people will come to rely on your judgment; will come to depend upon your good common sense approach to life, rather than the ‘stick-in-the-mud’ way used to think.

Doing all this will make you think more deeply about the things that affect you, even about the things that don’t – it is usually these last things about which your thoughts and opinions are most entrenched – it’s our way of coping with diversity in the world – of making it go away, of putting it in a cupboard and forgetting about it, to which I say that living life this way is like living as if you weren’t alive at all – a form of sleep walking, if you prefer not to be so gloomy. 

3.      Think Creatively

This is probably easier than it sounds.  The traditional thing to say by people who don’t think they are creative or think they can be, is that creative people are born and not made – stuff and nonsense!  Creative people are the way they are because they have worked at becoming more creative.  If you think creatively, you are creative.  The question is, how do you begin; well, you can make a start by doing simple mental exercises – by asking yourself questions beginning with the words – ‘What if…”  What if I went a different way to work?  What if I tackled my work as if I wanted to show someone else how I do it?  What if I were the Head of my department – what would I recommend?  Start simple at first, but once you begin to view the world like this, you’ll have difficulty stopping doing so – you’ll be creative. 

There are lots of other, equally effective ways of thinking creatively.  This site lists 12 ways.

Start today and enrich your life while making yourself into the kind of person you never imagined you could ever become.

4.      Do Things The Hard Way

Too often, we take the short cut, the easy way, we avoid any kind of difficulty in our lives.  My question here is this: Do we benefit from doing things this way; from taking the easy way?  Our muscles stiffen through inactivity; our brains atrophy – deteriorate – and we grow unaccustomed to doing things that present us with challenges.  If we take life head-on, so to speak, and don’t blanch at difficulty but defeat it, we become stronger, fitter, more mentally alert – more creative.

Here’s my daily dose of creating difficulty for myself – it doesn’t take long, but it improves me.  Driving to and from work every day, I try to drive as if I’m taking my driving test again: stopping at white lines, keeping to my lane, observing the speed limit, being considerate to other road users (not the easiest thing to do), and generally driving in an exemplary way and driving correctly – not endangering myself or anyone else on the road.  Now this may sound fairly simple; but it actually isn’t; it’s difficult and requires some thought – continual thought, actually, rather than me driving on what I can ‘automatic pilot’ – doing things more or less without doing too much thinking.

How does this help me?  Well, for a start, it makes my drive in and out much more enjoyable – it tests my driving knowledge and my ability to manipulate my way through Al Ain, and it tests me mentally; imagining there is a sharp-eyed driving instructor sitting next to me as I drive tunes up my thoughts and makes me feel sharper than I otherwise would.

Try it and see; do NOT take the easy way, the ‘lazy way’ of driving, but observe all the rules of the road – written or not, and then tell me you didn’t find the experience enjoyable – tell me your driving hasn’t improved dramatically because of it – and this is all before you begin the serious business of the day – your business!  Tell me that once you begin to take on minor challenges like the one I’ve just outlined, that it doesn’t make you more self-confident, happier, more aware of what is around you!   


5.      Network

Meeting people is always a nice thing to do – meeting old friends or making new ones is always worthwhile – it’s what makes us human – feel part of something bigger than our own ego.  Networking is a way of spreading ideas, getting new ideas, making a name for yourself, finding others with similar interests and passions; it’s a way of moving in circles that do not just revolve around you.  New friends have their friends, who may very well become your friends soon, or not.  The point is that you are moving out of your ‘comfort zone’ by introducing yourself to others; this is what is stimulating about doing it.  You find yourself overcoming your own shyness at meeting strangers; becoming more outgoing, listening more to what others have to say rather than chirruping your usual blurb.  You are becoming human, you are becoming a functioning part of something bigger – your community.  We all belong to so many of those: the community at home and the one at work; the one at the coffee shop, and the one after the conference you just took part in.  Networking tells others where you are – where you stand – what you like, and what you don’t – it locates you, and in so doing, it allows you to learn something invaluable – how to become someone people want to talk to – and that’s always very worthwhile, isn’t it?

Robert L. Fielding



Where do good ideas come from?

The child is made of one hundred.

The child has

a hundred languages

a hundred hands

a hundred thoughts

a hundred ways of thinking

of playing, of speaking.


A hundred. Always a hundred

ways of listening

of marveling, of loving

a hundred joys

for singing and understanding

a hundred worlds

to discover

a hundred worlds

to invent

a hundred worlds

to dream.


The child has

a hundred languages

(and a hundred hundred hundred more)

but they steal ninety-nine.

The school and the culture

separate the head from the body.

They tell the child:

to think without hands

to do without head

to listen and not to speak

to understand without joy

to love and to marvel

only at Easter and at Christmas.


They tell the child:

to discover the world already there

and of the hundred

they steal ninety-nine.


They tell the child:

that work and play

reality and fantasy

science and imagination

sky and earth

reason and dream

are things

that do not belong together.


And thus they tell the child

that the hundred is not there.

The child says:

No way. The hundred is there.

-Loris Malaguzzi, Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach

 The Hundred Languages of Children

by Loris Malaguzzi

Adapted by Robert L. Fielding

No way.

There is always a way

The hundred is there.


The child is made of one hundred.

I am

The child has a hundred languages

I have

a hundred hands

I touch and I feel

a hundred thoughts

I have them

a hundred ways of thinking

I can think

of playing, of speaking.

I do, I say

a hundred, always a hundred

I will tell you

ways of listening

I like

of marveling, of loving

I love to

a hundred joys

I love to over and over

for singing and understanding

I can sing, I know

a hundred worlds to discover

I want to find out for myself

a hundred worlds to invent

I know how to

a hundred worlds to dream.

I dream

The child has a hundred languages

I speak

 (and a hundred hundred hundred more)

And I also know

but they steal ninety-nine.

I resist

The school and the culture

I go but..

separate the head from the body.

I know it isn’t so

They tell the child to think without hands

It is impossible for me

to do without head

I must not

to listen and not to speak

I am unable to

to understand without joy

I need to

to love and to marvel

I do love and I do marvel

only at Easter and Christmas.

I do so at other times, most of the time

They tell the child


to discover the world already there

I have seen it

and of the hundred

I won’t let them

they steal ninety-nine.

I let them think

They tell the child

I don’t listen

that work and play

I play and I work

reality and fantasy

I create

science and imagination

I imagine

sky and earth

I see

reason and dream

I know well

are things

I am not convinced

that do not belong together.

I do not believe

And thus they tell the child

I hear

that the hundred is not there.

I know they are wrong

The child says

I know what I know

 “No way – The hundred is there.”

I am sure. 

Losing the child in yourself is losing something that is integral to you and to your full development as an adult.  Try not to do it.

Original by Loris Malaguzzi

(translated by Lella Gandini)

Watch this fabulous Youtube video showing the poem graphically and beautifully.

Robert L. Fielding


Where good ideas come from


Robert L. Fielding

What is a good idea?  We might start by looking how the words, ‘good’ and ‘idea’ can be used and are defined.  Since the word ‘good’ is a sort of catch-all word with as many meanings as it attaches itself to as an adjective, we might be well-advised to look at the list of synonyms that appear most appropriate as an adjective to describe an idea.  Here is a list of synonyms for ‘good’.




However, few, if any of those words conjure up the notion of creative.  In fact, most synonyms of the word ‘good’ relate to qualities of things, rather than thoughts.


Let’s try a word like ‘creative’ and see what we get: cleverimaginativeingeniousinnovational,innovativeinnovatoryinventiveoriginaloriginative,Promethean

giftedinspiredtalentedresourceful; fecundfertilefruitfulgenerativegerminalproductive


Now, these words seem more appropriate when describing a ‘good idea’.  They conjure up the essence of all that is good about a ‘good idea’, particularly in the context of this discussion.

Now for the word ‘idea’, defined as:

Something, such as a thought or conception, that potentially or actually exists in the mind as a product of mental activity.


I also want to introduce the adjective ‘new’ so that the ‘good idea’ in the title, ‘Where good ideas come from, refers to good ideas that are new ones, original ones, new, perhaps not in any real absolute sense, but rather meant to refer to those ideas that are good ones and are new and original to the person thinking them, and then outlining them.


This outlining is essential for my purpose; good ideas that never make the light of day remain day-dreams, untried, untested, unverified, undefended and unexplained.  Those ‘good ideas’ I want to discuss the origins of are those that do make the light of day, as we say, that are tried and tested, verified, defended and explained, and survive the onslaught of doubt, and are still thought of as ‘good ideas’.


In fact, we might go so far as to say that such good ideas are ones which effect some alternative preferable to those that have gone before.  It does seem commonsense to talk about those ideas that change something for the better.


Thus, originality in thought seems to be synonymous with creativity: ‘Creativity can be defined as the process of generating something that makes a difference. It is about doing something or making something that in some way changes the world or changes how someone experiences it.’


It can occur in any sphere of human activity. Often it is quite spontaneous, a natural reaction to an event or circumstances when a creative response is almost accidental in nature. More interestingly it can also be a deliberate form of action, a process that can be learnt, a process that can be nurtured. (ibid)


So, having a good idea can be something like a ‘light-bulb/Eureka moment, which occurs as quick as a flash, or it can be the product of a way of thinking – of orienting oneself to events, things, people, circumstances or dilemmas, for example.


It is this second, more deliberate way of coming up with good ideas that interests me.  The Eureka moments – flashes of inspiration, are valuable, but I don’t think we have time to sit around and wait for them to happen.  Rather, it might be more productive to look at the ways we can be creative on a regular basis rather than relying on something like lightning to strike.


A good starting point would be to say that in order to be creative, a person needs to have certain qualities:

*A creative person:


Ø  Is curious

Curiosity is the starting point in the process of coming up with ideas.  You have to be curious, to wonder if something could be changed, to give enough thought to whatever it is you think could benefit from change.

Ø  Is flexible

Flexibility is another vital quality for anyone who has new ideas.  Having a mind opposed to flexibility – rigidity – would inhibit the production of anything new.


Ø  Connects ideas

The writer, E.M. Forster famously once said, “Only connect”, and although he was probably talking about what writers do, it is good advice for anyone wanting to be innovative.  Connecting things that are not normally thought capable of being connected is the hallmark of the creative mind.

Ø  Accepts disorder

Disorder can be threatening to some people, and seen as an opportunity to others.  Putting some different kind of order to what looks chaotic is again a creative exercise.

Ø  Is unorthodox

Unorthodox situations, solutions, or answers point to a creative mind.  Some find unorthodox ideas threatening, out of the question, as they say, or just ridiculous.  Creative people are not so threatened by unorthodox thoughts.  On the contrary, they revel in them.  

Ø  Enjoys experimenting

Experimenting is something akin to daydreaming – saying ‘What if…?  Testing out experiments brings the ideas underpinning them to fruition of finality.

Ø  Is open to new experiences

Being conservative in thought word and deed usually signals that someone is not open to new experiences – finds them threatening and unpleasant.  Those who are open to new experiences probably have a much more optimistic outlook on life and enjoy life much more too.

Ø  Has the courage to take risks

Taking risks always requires some courage.  It is in overcoming the threat risk taking poses that we find confidence to take more risks; not with abandon, but with a rational calculation of the odds of being successful.

Ø  Enjoys humor and playfulness

It is in our play and in humour that we find our real selves, escape, however momentarily, from the day to day, often stultifying routines that mark our days.  Humour and play are antidotes to the boredom of routine, and they are terrific stress relievers too.

Ø  Sees similarities and differences

Our ability to see similarities in things, in people, goes a long way towards ensuring that we do not become cynical or prejudiced.  Seeing the differences allows us to see gaps in our intuition.

Ø  Is independent and self-reliant

There is nothing like being self-reliant and independent of thought to free a person from the chains that bind.  With such freedom, comes freedom to ponder, freedom to enquire, and freedom to experiment.

Ø  Is persistent and goal-directed

10% inspiration and 90% perspiration is the ratio of effort needed to see an idea though to its conclusion.  The inspiration comes first, the perspiration ensures fulfillment.

Ø  Questions accepted ways of doing things

Questioning accepted ways of doing things is something that is generally frowned upon, from the time we first ask, “Why?” to our having the confidence and the sense to question whether something is good just because it has always been done that way.  However, novelty for the sake of it can be less than valuable too. 

Ø  Is confident

Having confidence generally equates with a personality that can cope with criticism and be resilient to it.  Any new idea will always meet with some resistance, initially; having the confidence to be forthright and persistent pays off.

Ø  Isn’t scared of being wrong

One thing experts like Sir Ken Robinson, the noted British educationalist, says is that if you are not prepared to be wrong, you will most probably never come up with anything new.  He adds that although being wrong is not the same as being creative, not being frightened of it bodes well for anybody’s creative aspirations.

Ø  Is open minded

Being open minded is synonymous with finding others’ thoughts and ideas acceptable.  If a new idea is someone else’s, it doesn’t mean it should be ridiculed or banished.  Having a closed mind is one of the ways to dying a death, whilst the opposite is to assert one is alive and a member of the human race – an active member.

Ø  Is intuitive

Some people get a ‘feeling’ that something will work or turn out right, and although in tuition needs other qualities like logic and creativity to bear fruit, it is nevertheless a spring-board from which to start.

Ø  Is adventurous

An adventurous nature goes with youth; not only the young can be youthful.  Youthfulness is as much a state of mind as it is of the calendar.  Loving adventure is living life at full speed; recklessness is not the same, however.

Ø  Is willing to accept others’ ideas

It is in accepting others’ ideas that we find friends, colleagues who become friends, or those who are merely interested in the same things we are.  Competition is fine, but collaboration is more productive.

Ø  Is unwilling to accept ideas just because they are older

Accepting the ‘status-quo’ is something we all have to do to get by, for most of the time, but a healthy doubt that everything that is habitual is fine is integral to having productive thoughts.  Everything that is older, however, isn’t necessarily always in need of being changed.

Ø  Isn’t merely fascinated by novelty

Novelty, when it does not serve a purpose is called fashion.  A fashion is merely a wish for novelty for its own sake.  Being fascinated by novelty is not as useful as being intrigued by it.

Ø  Is interested in the modern and the new

Since we live in this new age of technical innovation, we should be interested in it.  If we are not, it might mean that we find it threatening.  Challenging head on the things we find threatening renders them non-threatening, and in some cases welcome.

Ø  Is tenacious

Tenacity is persistence added to determination; good ideas need to be worked on and through if they are to become anything more than dreams.  Dreams are fine, but without some direction and application, they rarely see the light of day.  Good ideas are dreams that are realized!

*My list added to by Fisher R, (2005) page 75


If you rarely have new ideas, and almost never have new ones that turn out to be good ones, you might do well to take another look at the qualities of those who do have them.  If you score low on most of those, then you might need to change in some way or other.


Now, nearly everybody has some resistance to change built in to their persona.  If we did not, we wouldn’t be the people we are, and if most of us were any other way than how we are, the world would not turn as effortlessly as it usually and happily does.


Change, if it is to be effected, is best to be incremental and purposeful, rather than radical and chaotic.  If you can change some aspects of your life without losing control or tiring yourself out, without losing your bearings in life, then change, when it comes will be welcome.  No one wants to be ‘cast adrift in an open boat on a choppy sea, so to speak.


So much for the popular, psychological-philosophical drift.  Next comes the practical side of the getting of good ideas.  First, it has been said that in order to have a good idea, you need to have lots of ideas, and having lots of ideas is something that can be worked upon and developed.


The early stages of producing lots of ideas begins, for me, with making connections, associations, so that when I think of one word, ten more come out of the filing cabinet that is my brain.  Similarly, if I can’t think of the name of something, I think of something that I have closely associated with it and the word comes out soon afterwards.


You might say that’s fine and dandy for me, but your brain doesn’t work like that, to which I say, make it work like that – get those synapses crackling – forge new neural networks by associating, by seeing similarities in seemingly otherwise disparate items.  I do, all the time, and it is something I work on regularly and often.


I do crosswords – not just the harder, cryptic ones, but also the easier ones, asking for synonyms and the like.  When doing these, easier types, I set myself rules that make me work harder to solve them.  I will only try solving clues in which I have the first letter in place, for example.


When thinking something through, I sleep on it, if there is time, and invariably come up with something innovative and new the day after.  I do not thrash about half the night worrying.  To me, worrying is the counter-productive part of wondering; worrying is putting a value on something that hasn’t happened yet and then willing it to happen merely by making yourself miserable about what will happen if it doesn’t.


The Eastern philosophies have plenty to say about such things, whereas the Western ones tend to look at ideas and such in ways that are more logical.  I think the saying, ‘East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet!’ stems from this seemingly very great difference in our respective ways of looking at ourselves and our ways of thinking, and what thought actually is, come to think of it.      


Whether you hail from the Orient or the Occident, you are just as likely to be able to come up with ideas; the ability isn’t cast in granite; the human mind is adaptable to practically anything.


 Connect – not only those things that everybody else connects, but try to find originality in your connecting.  One way of doing this is to do those little games in children’s comics – those little exercises in which one letter is changed to make a new word, and so on until the last, given words is reached.  My take on this is to see how many people come between me and someone well known – the six degrees of separation they say exists between everyone and everyone else.


I think there is something similar between things too.  See how many steps it takes you to get from OXYGEN to PAPER or from OXYGEN to JOHN LENNON.


These are not just idiotic mind games, though that is precisely what they are, and no harm in that, but ways of exercising that which we sometimes prefer not to exercise – the mind!  By exercising the mind, you will find ideas flow.  My way of capturing them for potential posterity is to write about them – give them a life, show them to others, have them discussed, even discarded sometimes – most of the time actually, but that doesn’t matter much to me; I don’t own them, I just have them, they are not mine, and, I know I’ll have many, many more.  That’s the beauty of having ideas, you see; more ideas lead to more ideas, the source never dries up – I won’t let it!


Robert L. Fielding


Mind Tools

Talk – On getting creative ideas – Murray Gell-Mann

Ten steps to boost your creativity

Getting creative things done: How to fit hard thinking into a busy schedule

Brainstorming ideas to help you think outside the box – a compendium

What’s new



Fisher R (2005) Teaching children to learn  Nelson Thornes  Cheltenham UK

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation [Hardcover]

Steven Johnson

On the origin of good ideas

“The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore those boundaries. Each new combination ushers new combinations into the adjacent possible. Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open.”

"Where Good Ideas Come From"

This 2010 book (see bibliography below) adduces seven conditions that enable discoveries and inventions, each of which gets its own chapter:

1) The adjacent possible: The inventor must use the components that exist in his environment. Gutenberg used a wine press for his printing press. Engineers used analog vacuum tubes to make digital computers.

2) Liquid networks: Large cities, and now the Internet, make it possible for loose, informal networks to form, and these enable discoveries.

3) The slow hunch: It can take years for a hunch to blossom into a full-blown invention.

4) Serendipity: Some examples are mentioned: LSD, Teflon, Viagra, etc. Johnson argues that serendipity is not really under threat fromGoogle, etc.

5) Error: This can also be a creative force. Lee de Forest's development of the audion diode and the triode was the result of erroneous thinking, and de Forest never understood how they worked. But they inventions changed the world.

6) Exaption: Birds developed feathers to keep warm and regulate their body temperature and later used them for flight. Vacuum tubes were developed for long-distance telephone networks and radio transmission and were later used for electronic computers. This story was repeated with transistors.

7) Platforms: It's unclear what this word refers to. He gives the example of the development of the Transit (satellite), a precursor of GPS by the Applied Physics Laboratory.


Purposive Drift

"Purposive Drift" is about, trying to finding ways to counter our blindness to the richness of the world and to create the circumstances where one can become aware of the adjacent possibilities that too strong a focus on goals or plans could make you miss.

How do people manage to be creative? In a time of rapid change this becomes a key question. As we move in to a joined-up world where barriers of time and location are dissolving, the demand for new ideas, new ways of doing things, new products, new services, new business models, new forms of interaction and communication between people, grows ever more insistent.

"Change, after all, is only another word for growth, another synonym for learning. We can all do it, and enjoy it, if we want to."
Charles Handy, "The Age of Unreason", Business Books Ltd, 1989, pp4


2 What is Creativity?
Creativity can be defined as the process of generating something that makes a difference. It is about doing something or making something that in some way changes the world or changes how someone experiences it. Creativity can occur in any sphere of human activity. Often it is quite spontaneous, a natural reaction to an event or circumstances when a creative response is almost accidental in nature. More interestingly it can also be a deliberate form of action, a process that can be learnt, a process that can be nurtured, and, one hesitates to voice the heresy, a process that can be managed.

"Those who can free themselves of old mindsets, who can open themselves up to new information and surprise, adapt to perspective and context, and focus on process rather than outcome are likely to be creative whether they are scientists, artists, or cooks."
Ellen Langer, "Mindfulness: Choice and Control in Everyday Life" Harvil/Harper Collins 1989 pp122

"Creativity is the ability to transcend the taken-for-granted."
Karl-Erik Sveiby, "The Pro-Team: Solving the Dilemma of Organized Creativity in Production" 1995


A map is not the territory

In the past I have often used Alford Korzybski's much quoted "A map is not the territory" when I have hit situations where our perceptions or models don't seem to accurately reflect what is going on or what a situation is.

Robert L. Fielding